Friday, March 28, 2014

Rachel Phifer: Why We're All Special

Everyone's Story welcomes Rachel Phifer as its guest this week. When I first met Rachel at an ACFW conference I was awed at her sereneness considering the excited atmosphere. This week she shares with us a continued sense of peace when she poses the question of whether each one of us are special and why. I've read her piece several times and always finish it with a warmth of acceptance, which I believe we all crave. I'd like to know what you think after reading Rachel's words. Rachel is offering a BookGiveaway of her novel THE LANGUAGE OF SPARROWS, which you can check out an excerpt from below. Rachel and I look forward to hearing from you.

Book Giveaway:
Rachel is offering one copy of THE LANGUAGE OF SPARROWS to one randomly chosen commenter. The winner will be announced here on Friday, April 4th, between 5-6 PM EST. For convenience, please leave your contact information within your comment. Thanks!



April knew she’d find her daughter close to home. That’s why she didn’t search the streets of Houston when the school called this time. And as expected, she found Sierra sitting in the apartment courtyard with her back against the willow tree. Oblivious to the cars speeding by and the crowded apartments surrounding her, she wrote in a notebook with utter concentration.

It wasn’t until Sierra noticed her blocking the light that she glanced up. They looked at each other for what seemed like a long minute before Sierra spoke. “I couldn’t stay there, Mom.”

As she lifted her face to the sun, it took on a quality that didn’t belong on a fifteen-year-old. April lowered herself to Sierra’s level, taking a moment to balance on her pumps. “You couldn’t stay in school because …?”

Sierra sent her a pleading look.

“Sierra,” April insisted.

“It’s not like my old school. There aren’t any windows in most of my classrooms. It’s so dark.”

There it was—the best explanation her daughter could offer for skipping school. Again. Sierra, with her knowledge of languages. But she never could seem to find the words she needed most.

As they talked, Sierra’s hand kept moving across the notebook in her lap. Writing by touch and not by sight, she guided the pen right and then left, then down. Every now and then she’d stop to hem a section of her strange script in black boxes.

“Baby, you’ve got to talk to me eventually.”

“I am talking to you.” But Sierra looked into the distance, tracking the movements of a cat, a blur of white that leaped from balcony to balcony. And her pen still moved.

April tried not to hate the symbols on Sierra’s page—Hebrew, Greek, an occasional column of hieroglyphs. Pages of archaic languages were absorbing more and more of her time. The girl had filled reams of paper with ancient words since they’d moved.

April sighed. Only on the news did people disappear in an instant. One minute a girl was walking to her bus stop. The next she was gone. Cable stations broadcast the missing child’s photo nationwide. Crews searched the woods. Everyone mourned when a child disappeared in a flash.

Not so the slow disappearances. No one called a press conference when Sierra’s grades began plummeting, when she dropped each of her friends one by one or refused to make new friends when they moved to Houston. The alarms on the school doors didn’t go off when she left in the middle of the day. The policeman at the front entrance didn’t even notice her leaving.

Only a computerized phone call alerted April to Sierra’s skipping classes at all.

There was no need to make threats or offer encouraging words. April had tried them all since they moved here last January. And Sierra was smart enough to understand the risks of skipping school—the danger of the streets where they lived, the potential failure to graduate, trouble with the police.

Instead of the old standbys, April looked through Sierra’s letters until she found a familiar one—a hieroglyph in the shape of an eye. “I see you, baby.”

That caught Sierra’s attention. She looked directly at April and blinked.

The school might not notice Sierra’s disappearing act. Maybe friends were nonexistent. Sometimes it seemed that God Himself had found someone more newsworthy to save. But it was impossible to disappear with a witness.

April underlined the hieroglyph with her index finger. “You are not invisible. I would have seen you walking past me if I’d been at the school. I see you, Sierra. Okay?”

When God Calls Us By Name by Rachel Phifer

Sometimes it’s dramatic. It comes in a blinding flash of light, and God asks you to give up everything you’ve known. Sell your possessions. Go to China. Know that He is God. And know nothing else. Your life looks like it belongs in the Book of Acts.

Truth be told, we don’t see enough of that. My life certainly has never looked like it belonged among Peter and Paul’s stories, and it’s probably due to my own lack of faith.

And yet, so often, when God calls your name, it’s a quiet whisper. He delivers a simple reminder that He knit you together. He made you for a purpose. It may be a quiet purpose, but it fits you like a glove.

Recently I had the opportunity to take a tour of a research lab where DNA gets modified. There were little petri dishes with microscopic cells floating in them. With the injection of a single new gene, healthy cells became cancerous or cancer cells became healthy.

The lab manager showed us a DNA construct with the letters identifying it. Since we were all non-scientists, she explained it in simple terms. “My name is Samar. My name tells who I am. But suppose, we change a letter of my name. Suppose I take out the “r” and replace it with a “t.” Samat does not have the same identity as Samar. Samat behaves differently than Samar.”

Courtesy Google Images
And I couldn’t help but think of the special name God has given us in the Book of Life. Perhaps it will even look similar to the name we already knew – encoded in it might be the same talents, the same appearance, more or less the same personality, the same history. But when we turn to Him for our identity, He alters our DNA by a smidge or by a yard, and we find there’s a brimming-over of life, which we didn’t have before. We are redeemed to be everything He created us to be.

Last week I picked up writing after weeks of not being able to get to it. And I hate to say it. It sounds too lofty. But with each word I typed, each phrase I edited, I felt God’s whisper. This is who you are. This is how I made you. Why have you stayed away? I have something for you to do here. I can meet you here.

What is it for you that brings God’s whisper –I breathed this joy into you when I breathed life into you?

Maybe it’s something ordinary such as cooking dinner for your family or crunching numbers. Or maybe it’s something identity-shaking such as going, full-time, to take the good news to the street people of Albania.

What good thing did God give you to do to build up His kingdom? God made each saint unique in their saintliness, after all. He gave each one of us our own story. So our call may involve a lot of self-sacrifice. It may be all joy. But you’ll know it’s you He’s calling because whether God comes to you with a mighty trumpet blast or by tiptoeing quietly into your life, He’s called you by name.

Rachel's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Everyone’s Story: Visit with Rachel Phifer, author of LANGUAGE OF SPARROWS. #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)

Author Rachel Phifer: How do you know when God is calling you? (Tweet This)

Rachel Phifer challenges you: Do you think you’re special? (Tweet This)

Author's Bio:
As the daughter of missionaries, Rachel Phifer grew up in Malawi, South Africa and Kenya, and managed to attend eleven schools by the time she graduated from high school. Books, empty notebooks and cool pens were her most reliable friends as she moved from one place to another. She holds a B.A. in English and psychology, and lives in Houston with her family.

Places to connect with Rachel:

Friday, March 21, 2014

Laura Zera: Finding The Help To Thrive

Everyone's Story welcomes author and world traveler Laura Zera. When first approaching a prospective guest for this blog I emphasize that what I'm really looking to accomplish it to uplift a viewer's heart and offer hope. Laura achieves this with so much zest that I'm very touched and honored to host her this week and hope that you will be encouraged, whether you too have a relative or friend suffering from mental illness or in one way or another can relate. Laura is also a seasoned traveler. If you enjoy exploring other countries or even if you're the armchair traveler type, please check out her amazing giveaway book of her adventures in West Africa. Both Laura and I look forward to hearing from you.

Book Giveaway:
Laura is offering one e-version copy of her fascinating travelogue, TRO-TROS AND POTHOLES, WEST AFRICA: SOLO to one randomly chosen commenter. The winner will be announced here on Friday, March 28th, between 5-6 PM EST. For convenience, please leave your contact information within your comment. Thanks!

Here's a blurb on Laura's TRO-TROS AND POTHOLES:
Tro-tros and Potholes is truly a reading adventure, with the Internet playing a key role. At what other time in history could an explorer stay in almost instant touch with people all around the world? During four months of traveling in West Africa, Laura Enridge thrilled friends and family back home with her vivid stories, often written in "stinky internet cafés with sticky keyboards." Here, her unedited emails are mingled with more detailed memoirs to form a wonderful collection of human stories, written straight from the heart.

A keen observer, Enridge takes an interest in almost everyone she meets. Her colorful glimpses into daily life in West African cities and villages are captured on every page of this delightful book.

From Survive to Thrive by Laura Zera

It was several months ago when Elaine reached out to me about writing a piece for Everyone’s Story. She had come across my own blog, and realized we share a common history: our mothers both have/had schizophrenia. Elaine’s mother passed away from cancer at the age of 46. My mother is turning 79 this summer, and now has advanced dementia.

Neither Elaine nor I had an easy childhood. There was no secure and nurturing home environment. Rather, I grew up with danger and volatility, day in and day out. My mother’s behavior was confusing and unpredictable, her rage incendiary. It created hyper vigilance and anxiety in me. While other kids in my neighborhood could be precocious and carefree, I functioned to survive.

Survive. Endure. Live through. They’re words commonly used in relation to adversity. They’re marginal words, though. They leave us on the margins of a full and joyful life. And while surviving trauma is a triumph in and of itself, don’t we deserve more?

Thrive. Flourish. Contribute. Those are the words that shone like a lantern for me, even at age 15, when I left home and moved in with my older, and only, sibling. Even at age 23, when I estranged myself from my mother and hid for 17 years, nervous every time I turned down a new aisle in the grocery store. And now, at age 45, when I bring cans of cashews to her in the care home, and she has no recollection of anything, past or present.

I went to an event recently where much of what the speaker said resonated deeply with me. It was United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the stage (her own father battled alcoholism, and died from heart problems when she was nine; we really do all have a story). In talking about how she managed to accomplish all that she has and have such an impressive career, she said, “there’s no such thing as a self-made man,” (or woman).

Sotomayor was saying it in reference to her career—how she learned to study from the best students at school, and sought out mentors as a young lawyer, but it applies to everything. Education, love, family, fulfillment. Alone, we are limited, even self-defeating. With help, the sky’s the limit.

We get what we need, and build what we want to build, with the help of others.

It can come in different packages, this “help” thing. Some find it in their faith; for others, it’s available within their families. For me, it first appeared in the shape of a grandmotherly social worker, assigned to my case file when I was 16 and caught shoplifting. I thought for sure she was going to look at my tight jeans and heavy eyeliner and tell me to clean up my act. Instead, she listened without judgment.

I was forced into getting help, and as life-changing as my experience was, it took some years before I became comfortable asking for it. There were all kinds of things bundled in with that: I didn’t want to be a burden, I felt ashamed, I didn’t think of myself as worthy of the time and attention. My baby steps approach was to return to therapy, because my flawed reasoning told me that at least those people were getting paid to listen to me. Later, I started to lean more on the “volunteers,” the people who liked or loved me freely and without strings or monetary compensation. 

When I finally realized that we’re all in this whole shebang together, that our existence is connected at the level of humanity and beyond, it became easier. Not only was giving help an act for the greater good, so was seeking it! And while shame kept me in survival mode, reaching out allowed me to grow. It also allowed me to forgive my mother, and eventually, to embrace my history. Just like Elaine, I still have my dark times, but that lantern is always shining, reminding me that I’m not in it alone.

You’re not in it alone either! What or who have been the sources of your greatest support over the years?

Laura's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Everyone has a story: author @LauraZera shares how to thrive with #schizophrenic parent. (Tweet This)

Laura Zera: Do you deserve more than just surviving a trauma? (Tweet This)

Like to read about #Africa? #BookGiveaway of author LauraZera’s Tro-tros and Potholes. (Tweet This)

Author's Bio:
Laura Zera is a freelance writer who has traveled to almost 60 countries and lived and worked in Cameroon, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States. She is currently working on her second book, a memoir about being raised by a mother with schizophrenia. Laura’s first book (written as Laura Enridge), 2004’s Tro-tros and Potholes, chronicles her solo adventures through five countries in West Africa. Her work can also be found in the anthology Write for the Fight: A Collection of Seasonal Essays, released in 2012 by Booktrope Publishing.

Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, Laura lives in Seattle, Washington, where she can be found walking her pug, driving her Mini, or attending concerts with her photographer husband Francis Zera.

Places to connect with Laura:

***If you're interested in reading about my (Elaine's) experiences with my mother you can check out Part One, Part Two, and my Testimony.

 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ JesusPhilippians 4:19 (NIV)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Nicole Quigley: The Importance of YA Christian Fiction

Everyone's Story welcomes Nicole Quigley, whose debut novel, LIKE MOONLIGHT AT LOW TIDE, won the 2013 ACFW Carol Award for the young adult fiction category, two years after winning the 2011 ACFW Genesis Award in the same category for unpublished authors. Talk about an exciting 2 years! What a blessing, Nicole! Congratulations. Yet, what also catches my  attention are the grittier topics that Nicole highlights in her novel and why publishers are now interested in them. Visit with Nicole this week as she shares an excerpt from her novel and answers a few questions. Also, check out her Book Giveaway offer. Nicole and I are looking forward to hearing from you.

Book Giveaway:
Nicole is offering one copy of LIKE MOONLIGHT AT LOW TIDE--no restrictions to international entrants-- to one randomly chosen commenter. The winner will be announced here on Friday, March 21st, between 5-6 PM EST. For convenience, please leave your contact information within your comment. Thanks!

              Excerpt from LIKE MOONLIGHT AT LOW TIDE:

Like Moonlight at Low Tide by Nicole Quigley

Like Moonlight at Low Tide
Copyright © 2012 by Nicole Quigley 

People never ask me the right question when they ask me what happened the beginning of my senior year. They always ask what his last words were. They figure he would have had great ones, the kind that would haunt a girl and echo off of empty lockers long after graduation. They wait breathlessly for me to describe the moment he jumped off the boat and into the glass-topped Gulf, cutting the ribbon of moonlight on the surface with the white of his arms.

“Surely he was trying to kill himself,” they’d say. “Why else would he leap into the water without the hope of rescue?”

And so I tell them what they earnestly hope to hear. How I searched desperately for the bob of his head in the water. How I jumped in myself, swimming fifteen feet until I felt the absence of the boat behind me, the vessel leaning away from the edge of the bay and into the dark, magnetic waters of the deep. They want to hear how hard it was to make my way back to the boat, and how, by then, the storm was beginning to unleash its rage. They want to hear how I scoured the cabinets for a radio and failed. How I searched for a flare gun but found no rescue.

And when I tell them of all of these things, they never ask — and I never mention — that I did all of them in complete silence.

The truth is, he said nothing before he jumped. And I never called his name, not once. I knew that he had plunged into that water so that he could not be found.

When the sheriff pulled his boat next to mine, he spoke the first words I had heard in hours. He lifted me from beneath the captain’s console, where I had waited with my knees tucked under my chin. That was the evening Hurricane Paul swept through our state.

This story is not about suicide. But you should know that when I was seventeen, the only boy who ever called me by my full name took his own life. It was the first time I ever saw a mistake that was permanent, that couldn’t be undone with whiteout or atoned for with an after-school detention. Nothing else I do for the rest of my life will ever be able to change this fact.

This story is actually about three boys. One who loved me. One who couldn’t. And one who didn’t know how.

My name is Melissa Keiser, and I was raised on Anna Maria Island, Florida.

The best description of the place I can provide you is a temperature: eighty degrees. It is not always eighty degrees on the island, but the humidity looming off the white foam of the Gulf of Mexico combined with the faint, sickly sweet emission from the orange juice factory always seems to make the place feel like it’s been wrapped in a warm blanket, just soft enough to make you feel safe or sleepy, but always feel slow if you tried to move too much within its folds. In truth, it is the most beautiful beach town I have ever seen. And then the breeze comes and reality finds you hiding behind a sand dune.

The Anna Maria I’m writing of is not the same island that you would see if you went online and searched the images posted by Yankee tourists and gray-haired Canadians. Those visitors love the island as much as anyone who has never suffered here can. They post pictures of things like starfish and sandcastles and pelicans at sunset. They marvel at the brightly colored flowers that seem to grow from the ditches like weeds, and the waist-high herons, and the restaurants grilling grouper underneath tin-roofed sun decks. This is, after all, a place overflowing with such abundant beauty that its residents actually chased off native, jewel-colored peacocks to the neighboring cities because it deemed them a nuisance. Only an island sure of its place among beach towns could afford to do such a thing without regret.

But pictures of these things don’t show what life was like for me or for the others who walked these streets that year. To the tourists, we are points of curiosity. They wonder what it would be like to raise their children in a place where the speed limit is twenty-five and the town shuts down for the high school football game. And we oblige to tell them and show them how to pick up crabs with their bare hands. This is what happens when you’re surrounded by people who visit for two weeks at a time, intent on happiness, always reminding us of how wonderful the island is compared to where they live, because where they live is lucky to have a city park and a tree that has kept its leaves. But when the conversation ends, we never make it into their pictures.

In the time since I was a child, those tourists have slowly razed the neighborhoods of my youth, house by house, in order to build pink, tall homes in their place that people like my family could never afford to rent. But that was never the point. Now, their new winter domains sit empty six months out of the year, while locals move to the concrete mainland in search of cheaper rent. It is an odd thing, to love these visitors and to depend on them for supper, while at the same time knowing the more who come will mean less room for us.

But I am writing of the island not pictured on Google, the one that still harbors the necessary number of the working class who have found a way to make a home on a seven-mile stretch of paradise without the rich folks noticing.

Questions for Nicole:

Why YA fiction? What lures you to write and read this genre?

YA is super fun to read and write. YA characters are new to their worlds, and inevitably they challenge me to see the “same old” scenes through new eyes. They also tend to feel more intensely than older characters. When you’re young, even boredom can feel so intense that it becomes unbearable. When you combine the two together, you get a fresh perspective with high emotional stakes. That’s what I call a great read.

I write YA because nothing could be more meaningful to me than to connect young adults with the truth of who God is and who He says they are in Him. I try to write for the 17 year-olds who need to know that they’re not alone—the kids who are too smart for hackneyed answers to the problems they’re facing but who are still hungry to find the truth about what their lives could be.

Your 2013 Carol-award-winning novel, LIKE MOONLIGHT AT LOW TIDE revolves around the plot points of bullying and suicide while interwoven with faith. While these subjects are magnets toward my attention, both Christian fiction publishers and readers have stayed away from these plots in the past. Is there a change happening in the Christian market these days? Did you have difficulty initially selling this novel because of these elements? If these topics are your passion, had you once considered putting them aside to write a “more sellable” novel?

I have to smile at this question because it wasn’t long ago that the thought of selling a novel was so far beyond my notion of reality that it never would have occurred to me to write in order to be “sellable.” I wrote Like Moonlight at Low Tide because I couldn’t not write it. It had to come out.

I start every writing session with prayer, and I ask God to help me be obedient to tell the story He wants me to tell. I know that there are times I’m not going to get it right. I just place it in His hands. While it might be smarter for me to start by thinking about making the WIP “sellable,” my process starts with the story, or a scene, and a feeling I can’t shake about it. I don’t feel like I create story ideas. I feel like I take dictation.

I think the reason Christian publishers are willing to take more risks in the range of works they publish now is because of the great titles that have come before us and opened up the shelf space, built audiences, and really created a marketplace for Christian storytelling.

If you look at the roster of titles from Zondervan (Blink), as well as other great publishers, like David C. Cook and WaterBrook Multnomah, you’ll find titles books that go way off the map. They’re publishing works that go very deep, are very relatable, and still offer tremendous hope.

You have a strong public relations background. What were the pluses and minuses when it came to writing fiction?

My PR work has taught me about the mechanics of building a story, and about the tough love process of being edited. I also learned how to face rejection. Sometimes the story doesn’t work. You shake it off, and you build the next one. The rule is always the same at the end of the day: keep pitching. The reward of seeing a story come to life is worth all the hard work. It’s a thrill that never gets old.  

Would you like to share what you’re currently working on?

Thank you for asking! I have a new manuscript in the works, but I’m not ready to discuss it just yet.  

Nicole's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Nicole Quigley on Everyone’s Story: why writing YA fiction for the Christian market is important. (Tweet This)

Meet #ACFW Carol-Award-winning author, Nicole Quigley. #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)

Everyone’s Story: why Nicole Quigley thinks there’s a change brewing in Christian fiction publishers. (Tweet This)

Author's Bio:

Nicole Quigley is the author of Like Moonlight at Low Tide, which won the American Christian Fiction Writers 2013 "Carol Award" for best young adult fiction, as well as the ACFW's "Genesis Contest." For more than a decade, Nicole worked as a public relations adviser in Washington, D.C. She holds a B.S. from Appalachian State University, where she majored in Communications and Public Relations and minored in English. Nicole resides on Florida's Gulf Coast.

Places to connect with Nicole:


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